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Mental Practice
Chris Boniol
Article posted on 4/19/2003

The question asked of me the most throughout my playing career and my coaching career is "How do you tune the crowd out during a last second field goal?" The Answer: I don't!

A kicker shouldn't have to "Concentrate on Concentration." He should be concentrating on striking the ball. How can you have pro-level focus?

Concentration is a habit that must be developed.

Just like you train your leg on the field and in the weight room, you must train your mind. When I work with kickers and punters, the thing that I insist on first is for them to have intense concentration on every step of every rep. That includes no-step kicks, one-step kicks, and full kicks that are just warm-ups. You only have so many swings in a lifetime, make them count (even the warm-ups).

While in college, I started working with a Sport Psychologist named John Muczko (now at Wesley College in I established an important routine in everything throughout the day, especially things associated with football. I began to do mental practicing at night and before I took the practice field.

Mental Practice is when you close your eyes and visualize details of kicks. Try it for yourself. Record every detail that goes through your mind when you are setting up, approaching, and kicking the ball. Take note of certain mental cues and phrases that you say or think to yourself. This is important is establishing a mental routine as well as the physical routine.

Start out by visualizing short-range kicks from each hash. Go through every detail that you can. Visualize the snap, the hold, your foot striking the ball, and the ball sailing end over end through the uprights. Do this for a few kicks. You will notice that after a few minutes of this, it becomes harder to concentrate. This is why you must train your mind. Also, you can get countless "Perfect kicks" in your mind without wearing down your body. I like to compare it to a scary movie that makes you jump. Why did you jump? You know it's a movie. The same thing applies for mental practice; you are training your mind to concentrate intensely on perfect kicks. Your mind can't tell the difference!

This technique also raises your level of expectations. If all you ever visualize is perfect kicks, those are what you are more likely to get on the field.

After you build up some "mental endurance," try to add details to your mental reps such as opponents, conditions, and surfaces. This benefited me the most in my pro career. I would mentally practice on the field I would be playing on Sunday or Monday night. Then when I went into the game, I had already been in each situation. And I succeeded. Having "been there" already made me more confident and comfortable when the real thing came around.

You are probably going to think I'm nuts after I tell you what other mental stuff I did (if you don't already think so?). I put post-it notes in different places with quotes such as "Kick good today!" or "1 for 1." There are many more. My point is if all you ever think, read, and see are positive things, then you will become more positive. If you become a more positive person, then you will get more positive results.

So make a few kicks before you go to bed at night and have a post-it note waiting for you when you get up in the morning. Remember that concentration, attitude, and perfection are not like light switches. You don't just turn them on when you need them. These things must be developed over time.

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